Trivialities about digital data, explained


Something you should really, really already know, by now.

Trivialities about digital data, explained /img/cambridge-analytica-impressive-graphs.jpg
Cambridge Analytica showing off some REALLY impressive graphs

Digital utopianism believes that free flow of information automatically ends ignorance and makes reason win. In reality, the internet has caused “a cultural shift regarding what we constitute as a fact”. What must we do of digital data then?

“Data” is never virgin

This is well explained on FiveThirtyEight: “Data never has a virgin birth. It can be tempting to assume that the information contained in a spreadsheet or a database is pure or clean or beyond reproach.” But all data is collected and compiled by someone, for a specific, predefined purpose. This doesn’t mean that the same data will be used in other ways, of course. Actually, that is what happens most of the time. Besides, “Research findings based on relatively new and novel data sets… will have been less well scrutinized and is more likely to contain errors, small and large”.

Just as it happens with data, even the reporting about data “never has a virgin birth”. Two excellent examples of what I mean, which I highly recommend to read in full, are:

Still, data is usable, and needed, to create powerful change

Accurate data can, for example, help mitigate racial-related fears. In general, all NGOs and Charities could, and really should, pay much more attention to data for positive social change.

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